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Gateway to the Mountains

George Wireman

Chapter 6: Early Industries

Early in its history, Mechanicstown was the center of considerable manufacturing industry, and soon after the Rouzer Tannery was established, the town began to grow rapidly. Most of the citizens were engaged in some kind of work, principally mechanics, and from this it derived its early name, "Mechanicstown."

Jacob Weller, strides across the pages of history as a vivid figure of Mechanicstown, and his interests and attainments were notable in this frontier period.

As the town grew in size and scope, it was soon justified in building a hotel, principally for the many travelers who passed along the main road leading through the mountain gap to Hagerstown and beyond. This hotel, built in 1800, was known as the Gilbert House and was kept by the son of the first settler of Mechanicstown, Jacob Weller. This building, constructed of stone from the nearby mountains, stands today on the "square" and is as strong and sturdy as the day it was built. The property is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jules Shapiro who have operated a clothing store on the first floor since their arrival in Thurmont 20 years ago.

In 1805 Jacob Weller built a beautiful stone tavern directly across the road from his home on West Main Street. Located on the corner of West Main Street and Altamont Avenue, this home still stands as a monument to its builder and is known today by the older citizens of the community as the "Johnson House." It was given this name when George Johnson purchased the property from the Weller family. The Johnsons maintained it in the family until 1889 when it was bought by the Zimmermans. Just recently it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dunn, who are in the process of restoring it with many items of days gone by. The Dunns are to be congratulated for their interest in this old home, for there is a lack of interest in historic places in this area and very few realize the value of holding on to things of this nature.

The Johnson House, West Main Street The First Hotel, Built in 1800

Jacob Firor opened the first store in Mechanicstown in 1806, but there is little known information as to where the store was located and just what items were sold there. It is reasonable to believe that it was like any other community store of its day, handling almost any item needed by the citizens of the community.

Using the power of Hunting Creek, Jacob Weller started an edge tool factory in 1811. The factory was operated as a tilt hammer forge and existing records show that this was the very first establishment of its kind south of New York. He would start the tilt hammers long before day break and these were said to serve as an alarm clock for the early-rising townspeople. Jacob Weller forged edged tools from cold steel and became widely known for his skill in this trade. Tools of all descriptions went out from his factory to all parts of the South and as far as the West Indies and Cuba.

Weller also manufactured pump augurs which were used in the manufacturing of stock pumps. These pumps, made by the local pump makers, were used extensively in the western counties, and until the advent of the wind wheels, could be found on most every farm.

The process began by boring a hole down the center of oak logs ten to fifteen feet in length, with long augurs. As many of these as the depth of the well required were joined together, one end fitting tightly into the other, so as to form a continuous wooden pipe of substantial character and enduring nature, The rod, which was usually made of wood, worked up and down in this tube, by an iron pump handle, which was fastened at the top of the well. A better and more substantial pump to be worked by hand has scarcely ever been devised. Mill irons were also produced in Mr. Weller's factory which is said to have flourished until around 1850.

About the time Weller opened his edge tool factory, the town had grown to such an extent that the need for a post office was felt and although there are no records to support this fact, it is believed that Jacob Weller also had a hand in this project.

J. Conradt in 1815, started a large woolen mill which became very successful and remained in operation for almost 40 years. By 1820 the Hunting Creek Tannery made its appearance followed by several more, which have been covered in a previous chapter. Special account has also been given in another chapter of the historic Catoctin Iron Works which began in 1768.

Prior to 1860, Lynn's Pottery, located on the road leading to Crow's Nest, manufactured many fine flower pots, crocks, vases and jugs of all sizes. These were available in two types, plain or ornamental. Today many beautiful pieces of this pottery may be found in some of the homes of the community. A sugar bowl is on exhibition at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York. Just recently Miss Catherine Harbaugh purchased a piece of Lynn's pottery at a local sale and proudly displays it in her home on Lombard Street.

In 1881, Mr. Lynn built a new pottery on Boundry Avenue and is said to have employed a George H. Parker, who was considered a skillful master of the trade. A sun dial, made from the old potter's wheel at the Lynn Pottery was found some years ago by the late Albert Gernand and was moved to his property just west of town.

On several occasions my father told me of the weaving factory and a nail shop, making the finest hand wrought nails in the county. There was a Casket Works, carriage and harness shops and the Crecite Excelsior Works. This was a very important industry, having been established in 1898 by J. Wesley Creeger, Samuel L. Birely and V. W. Winchester. The original plant was destroyed by fire but was immediately rebuilt on a much larger scale and Mr. Creeger became the sole owner of the business.

Around 1887 the Root brothers organized and built a cannery adjacent to the cemetery and along the tracks of the Western Mary-land Railroad. This was later destroyed by fire and a new canningfactory was built, known as the Western Maryland Canning Co. The late Ray Taylor, a local citizen, was associated with the establishment for many years. Before the present canning factory closed it was operated by a Frederick firm known as Jenkins Brothers, Inc. When operating at peak capacity the local firm employed as many as 130 people and processed beans, peas and tomatoes. Today the site of this once thriving industry is a total ruin, having been idle for many years. During a recent Halloween celebration, a number of the old labels were found scattered along the streets which brought to mind memories of an industry that once offered employment to many citizens in the area, and which has since passed from the scene.

Around 1896, M. H. Whitmore set up shop on Water Street and began the manufacture of cigars. The shop, located on the site now occupied by the home of Lillian M. Smith, employed 12 to 14 workers and was kept busy filling orders for a distributing firm in Baltimore, Maryland. My father worked for the Whitmore firm until around 1901 when he and several others left the cigar trade and went to work for the Western Maryland Railroad.

M. H. Whitmore and employees pose for photographer in front of shop

In 1832 the village of Mechanicstown was incorporated and a Mr. Adelsberger became the first mayor. Because of the fact that the old papers of the first incorporation were lost, the Maryland Legislature in 1870, took action which repealed the first incorporation. A new one was drawn up and the community has been governed by this down to the present day.

In 1868, the John Jones property, west of town, was built by Alec Wireman, a distant relative of the author. Mr. Wireman owned and operated a flour mill near the site for many years. The mill was driven by water power obtained from Hunting Creek which runs nearby. In 1882 the Wireman property, including the mill, was purchased by John Jones who operated the mill until 1892, when it was destroyed by a fire.

A few years later, Daniel Rouzer built a flour mill but did not stay in the business for any length of time. It is believed that the mill changed hands many times. The mill was located on the site of the present one, along the tracks of the Western Maryland Rail-road at the north end of Walnut Street. In 1942 the original mill was destroyed by fire but was rebuilt and equipped to meet the needs of its many stockholders. A large grain elevator with a capacity of 12,000 bushels of grain was then added and since then many new improvements have been made, making it one of the most modern and up to date establishments filling the farmer's every need.

In 1928 this mill was consolidated with Rocky Ridge and Sabillasville firms and incorporated as a farmer's cooperative. The Thurmont Cooperative today is under the management of D. Saylor Weybright.

As early as 1704, the first newspaper in the United States was published. The first newspaper to make its appearance in Mechanics-town was the "Family Visitor." It was started by Isaiah Wolfensberger and the printing office, said to be one of the liveliest spots in town in its day, was located on West Main Street on the site now occupied by the home of Lee J. Kelbaugh.

The "Family Visitor" had a very short life, as the Civil War was being fought at this time and the paper favored the Southern cause and upheld the right of a state to secede from the Union. About ten years later, namely on March 4, 1871, William Need began the publication of the "Catoctin Clarion" which became widely known and a favorite with the citizens of Mechanicstown. Mr. Need's health caused him to give up the publishing of the Clarion and he sold it to Alexander P. Beatty who continued to operate it until 1879. It was then sold to E. L. Root and Charles Cassell. Mr. Cassell became editor and held this position until about 1904 when the paper changed hands several times and finally in 1939, due to the lack of proper support, publication of the Clarion ceased. Up to this time there were several editors including H. Q. Miller, James Firor, J. K. White and Carl Cassell.

In March of 1940, the "Catoctin Enterprise" made its appearance under the management of George C. Rhoderick, Jr. of Middle-town, with a local woman, Miss Blanche S. Eyler as Editor. The news of local interest is gathered and then sent to Middletown where the paper is printed each week and then brought back to Thurmont for distribution.

Since the "Enterprise" made its first appearance twenty-seven years ago, it has grown to be a publication of which the citizens of the community are mighty proud. It has on a number of occasions proved that every effort is being extended to make it one of the finest weekly newspapers in the area.

In March 1959, Thurmont, and particularly the "Enterprise," came in for an unusual amount of wide-spread publicity during the visit of President Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to Camp David for talks on the Berlin situation. This publicity through the medium of no less a distinguished individual, the renowned John Daly, television news commentator, put the lo-cal weekly publication in the limelight on his regular news broad-cast on Channel 7. He spoke of the large retinue of newspaper, radio and television reporters who were in Thurmont covering this historic meeting of the two world leaders. He then interjected the remark that "some people, however, are hard to impress." He then went on to say that the "Catoctin Enterprise," the town newspaper, had appeared in its current issue with only a short notice at the bottom of the front page regarding the meeting, while a "banner head-line" at the top of the page announced that "Spring Is Here."

Mr. Daly's remarks, made in a somewhat humorous vein, were indicative of the fact that even today metropolitan news mediums and particularly the news and editorial writers and commentators on such mediums are totally unaware of the things that make up a small, community newspaper. There is no question that the staff of the "Enterprise" was impressed by the presence of such dignitaries as those who visited Camp David, but as publishers of a weekly community newspaper they must always judge discriminatingly between the matters of prime interest and casual concern affecting their readers. Items which have already been emblazoned in head-lines and pictures throughout the nation are not calculated to get much of a "rise" out of the readers of a local weekly paper. Too often we are called "hicks" and "yokels" and this is not the case. We secure all of the information we possibly can from the metropolitan dailies and tune in our favorite television news programs for the latest events on the world scene. Our weekly publication is more concerned with local events and does a fine job in covering them from week to week.

Recently Miss Blanche Eyler retired as Editor of the Enterprise and Mrs. Sally Benjamin took her place in reporting the latest news of local interest. The Catoctin Enterprise has grown and continues to thrive as a result of a policy of featuring the news which interests its readers most. Mrs. Benjamin is doing a very fine job and the Enterprise is a weekly publication of which the community is mighty proud.

It might be well to point out here that the citizens of Thurmont have become accustomed to seeing world leaders and distinguished visitors in town and we try not to show our concern or create any excitement by our emotions over such visits. It is the general feeling of our citizens that this is the way our distinguished guests would want it and this is the way we try to make it.

East Main Street, Looking West

Chapter Index | Chapter 7: The First Post Office

If you have any Information or historical news clippings on events in the Thurmont Area, Please send them to us so we can included them in our archives. E-mail us at: history@mythurmont.net